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The 17 Most Tragic Blimp Disasters In History

Updated February 12, 2020 17.6k views17 items

It's not hard to recount the many blimp disasters throughout history and realize why we don't use them anymore. Some of the largest aviation accidents throughout history involve a type of blimp or airship. No matter how much work was put into design or safety features, blimp accidents were common enough and serious enough to prevent them from becoming a routine part of air travel or military activity.

Below is a list of the worst blimp disasters throughout history. Looking at the list, it's easy to understand why we no longer utilize blimps as a mode of transportation. From the well-known Hindenburg explosion to the USS Akron tragedy, read on to discover the most tragic blimp disasters of all time. 

  • The ZPG-3W Reliance Crashes Into The Ocean

    Photo: United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    ZPG-3W airships were among the largest ever built. It was a massive vehicle, longer than 400 feet, and the last airship ever delivered to the US Navy. The blimps were equipped with radar equipment and designed as part of an early warning system for Soviet attacks on America. The first of these ships to ever head out over the ocean, the Reliance, suffered a tragic fate

    On July 6, 1960, the Reliance flew out from Long Beach Island, NJ, on a clear day to aid in the search for two missing yachts. While over the ocean, the envelope of the blimp collapsed, sending it to fall into the ocean. Of the 21 people on board, 18 were killed. Fishing boats and other craft in the area rescued the three survivors. Although the cause of the crash was unclear, it's believed that the adhesive degraded, causing a seam to burst.

  • The Schütte-Lanz SL6 Mysteriously Explodes

    Photo: Hans Rudolf Schulze / Wikipedia / Public Domain

    The biggest name in airship construction was Ferdinand von Zeppelin. In the early 1900s, his biggest competitor was the Luftschiffbau Schütte-Lanz company, which distinguished itself by making its ships from wood, rather than metal alloys.

    Because of their construction, the Schutte-Lanz airships were highly susceptible to moisture, though what brought down the SL6 on November 10, 1915, remains a mystery. The airship took off from Seddin, outside Berlin, and exploded, killing 20. 

  • The French Dixmude Vanishes At Sea

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    At one point, the Dixmude was the pride of the French dirigible fleet. After the first World War, the one-time German Zeppelin (German name: L-31) was turned over to France. On September 23, 1923, it broke the world endurance record by flying from France to Tunisia and back in 118 hours and 41 minutes. 

    On December 21, 1923, the Dixmude mysteriously vanished over the Mediterranean. The last radio transmission from the ship reported a horrible thunderstorm, and noted the dirigible would have to make an emergency landing. It was never seen again. A few days later, fishermen discovered the body of Lieutenant Du Plessis de Granadan, the commander of the airship. Remains of the other 51 people on board were never recovered. It's theorized that the airship was struck by lightning, causing it to explode over the ocean.

  • The Roma Goes Down In Flames

    Photo: United States Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    On February 21, 1922, America suffered the worst aviation disaster of the time when the Roma crashed down in Norfolk, VA. The blimp was remarkably big: more than 410 feet long and 92 feet tall.

    While flying, it's believed that the rudder malfunctioned, causing the airship to nose-dive. As it fell, the ship hit power lines, causing it to burst into flames. Thirty-four men on board died, eight were seriously injured and three slightly injured.